Top 10 albums of 2014

Singles by Future Islands
Thoughts: An album I was initially underwhelmed by, thinking they were a one-hit wonder, but which on repeat listens has crept under my skin. For me, unobtrusive and un-demanding synth pop music you could  play in the background while you're busy with other things. Seasons Waiting On You is among the best songs of 2014.
Favorite tracks: Seasons (Waiting On You)A Dream Of You And MeLighthouse, Doves, A Song For Our Grandfathers

Love Letters by Metronomy
Thoughts: I didn't think it was that good on first listen. Really improves on repeat spins. I liked the variation in the instrumentation from track-to-track. Especially the first half of the album impressed me.
Favorite tracks: The Upsetter, I'm Aquarius, Love Letters, Monstrous

Salad Days by Mac Demarco
Thoughts: An artist I was not familiar with, and had no expectations for. The album is quite addictive, and at only 30 minutes, a quick listen. Apparently his previous output is supposed to be just as good or even better, so I'll be seeking that out. As a full length listen the record works really well.

St. Vincent by St. Vincent 
Thoughts: The bizarre album artwork pays homage to a favorite film of hers, The Holy Mountain (1973), directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky.
I didn’t love every song, but definitely an interesting album, with lots of variation. As Stereogum wrote, a reminder that experimental music and pop music don't have to be mutually exclusive.
On her album, from NME, 3 Jan 2015: "I wanted to make a record that had enough groove so you could dance to it, but also enough heart so that you could have it with you in your vulnerable times (...) I was reading Miles Davis' autobiography and he says the hardest thing for any musician is to sound like yourself. So I thought, yeah, I sound like myself on this record, I'll call it St. Vincent."
She got her name from the Nick Cave lyric:“And Dylan Thomas died drunk in St Vincent's hospital”

Morning Phase by Beck
Thoughts: I'm sure there will be those who label this album monotonous, and those who label it tranquil. I would call it music you need to be in the right mood for. It really is a nice way to start your day, having it on the cd player in your car. A record for people who enjoy folk music. All 13 songs are set around dawn, and probably designed to wake up to.
A beautiful album, as if Beck has travelled back in time. NME calls it "A love letter to the late 60s and early 70s, as typified by The Byrds, Mamas and Papas, and Neil Young". "Turnaway" has been compared to Simon & Garfunkel's Sound of Silence, "Heart is a Drum" to Nick Drake.
Mojo describes the album as: "a search for stillness, peace of mind." "Introspective, wonderfully alive to the way the days tender hours can flip over perceptions".
Favorite tracks: MorningWaking LightBlue MoonUnforgiven

Black Messiah by D'Angelo And The Vanguard
Thoughts: Released in mid December when many music magazines had already written their year-end lists. Really good from start to finish, and has gotten a lot of praise from critics. He's not merely a Prince impersonator, though the influence is obvious.
Favorite tracks: Sugah Daddy, The Door, Another Life, Prayer, Really Love, Ain't That Easy, Back to the Future (part 1), Betray My Heart

Lazaretto by Jack White
Thoughts:  Perhaps I'm more excited and surprised about the album than his fans seem to be, because I'm mostly unfamiliar with his White Stripes output. Lazaretto was partly inspired by a collection of short stories, poems, and plays White wrote when he was 19 years old and rediscovered years later in his attic.
Favorite tracks: High Ball StepperWould You Fight For My Love?LazarettoAlone in My Home

Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey
Thoughts: Her voice is heavenly. When people look back at the 2010s, I think Lana Del Rey will be remembered. I just can’t connect emotionally in the same with many of today’s female pop artists such as Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Adele, Rihanna, Shakira, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys. I’m slowly warming to Lorde and Ellie Goulding. Lana Del Rey is my favorite to listen to of these female singers.
Took a few spins to get into her latest. Not as instantly catchy as her previous album Born to Die, but it gets better on each listen.
I enjoyed about 2/3 of Ultraviolence. "Old Money" sounds like a sequel to "Young and Beautiful"(a song from Great Gatsby soundtrack which I’m surprising she didn’t include here)
Tough to know which are real or made up situations on the album, I don’t think it matters, it’s just art/music.
On tracks like "Money Power Glory" and "Fucked My Way Up to the Top" I didn’t care for the seemingly disreputable messages she is communicating, even if the music sounds alright. Some would say Lana Del Rey isn't condoning a situation, but simply describing one. "I was in more of a sardonic mood," she says of writing "Money Power Glory". "Like, if all that I was actually going to be allowed to have by the media was money, loads of money, then fuck it …What I actually wanted was something quiet and simple: a writer's community and respect." (quote from The Guardian)

I feel the lyrics are the weakest element of her music. That said, I think she has a talent for creating pop hooks, and the album has many highlights.
Favorite tracks: Brooklyn Baby, West Coast, Shades of Cool, Pretty When I Cry, Cruel World, Old Money, The Other Woman

Benji by Sun Kil Moon
Thoughts: Who says albums have to be listened to over and over? Sometimes an album arrives that you listen to once, just like a movie or a book, and that experience stays with you for life.
While it’s quite a morbid affair, about death and sadness, it is interesting how the singer created a family history, by having songs about his relationships to his mother, father, grandma, uncle, aunt, second cousin, neighbors. He documents girlfriends and pop culture he remembers from his youth, and life on the road as a musician. You really do feel you get to know the guy, because he's so candid, and there's no apparent filter in his musings. Sort of like reading his diary entries.
For what it lacks in variation in terms of instrumentation, it makes up for with relatable, vulnerable and heartfelt writing. Boy was it powerful and moving. Not something I’d listen to often though.
The title is a reference to the movie Benji (1974), which he explains in lyrics he saw in theatres.
Favorite tracks: Ben's My Friend, I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love, Pray for Newtown, I Watched the Film The Song Remains the SameClarissaRichard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes

Lost In The Dream by War on Drugs
Thoughts: Probably the band’s finest collection of songs. Has been described by a critic as a springtime record-in how full of life it is.
The album's title refers to a broken America, but it could just as easily describe the immersive qualities of the hazy, dreamlike music, which you can get lost in.
Favorite tracks: Under The Pressure, Red Eyes, DisappearingEyes To The Wind, An Ocean In Between The WavesThe Haunting Idle, Burning

Honorable mentions:
Tough Love by Jessie Ware (Cruel) (Tough Love) (You and I Forever) (Say You Love Me) (Pieces)
Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen
Sun Structures by Temples
Turn Blue by The Black Keys
Hot Dreams by Timber Timbre
Luminous by The Horrors
G I R L by Pharrell Williams
Heal by Strand of Oaks
In Conflict by Owen Pallett
No One Is Lost by Stars
Innerworld by Electric Youth
Too True by Dum Dum Girls
Everybody Down by Kate Tempest
The Voyager by Jenny Lewis
Out Among The Stars by Johnny Cash
Dead by Young Fathers
Hallways by Homeboy Sandman
Classic by Joan As Police Woman
World Peace Is None Of Your Business by Morrissey
After the Disco by Broken Bells
I Never Learn by Lykke Li
Caustic Love by Paolo Nutini
To Be Kind by Swans
Upside Down Mountain by Conor Oberst
Blank Project by Neneh Cherry
Do It Again (EP) by Röyksopp and Robyn

Which are your favorite albums from 2014? Agree or disagree? As always, comments are welcome. In case you missed it, I already shared my top 10 soundtracks of 2014


  1. Very interesting list. A few of these are among my faves of the year, as well. To be honest, you've given me a swift kick in the pants. By that, I mean I've been binge-listening to a slew of albums since I came across your top songs of '14 posts. Thanks for that. I haven't ranked them, or quite narrowed them down to 10 yet, but my faves, in no particular order, are (warning: hip hop heavy)...

    Everybody Down - Kate Tempest (my current leader for the top spot)
    Run the Jewels 2 - Run the Jewels
    St. Vincent - St. Vincent
    Blank Project - Neneh Cherry
    Pinata - Freddie Gibbs and Madlib
    ...and then you shoot your cousin - The Roots
    Art Official Age - Prince
    Ultraviolence - Lana del Rey
    Broke with Expensive Taste - Azealia Banks
    Barrel Brothers - Skyzoo and Torae
    Friends & Lovers - Marsha Ambrosius
    Lord Steppington - The Step Brothers
    Nobody's Smiling - Common
    Good to Be Home - Blu
    LP1 - FKA Twigs

    A Note on Black Messiah by D'Angelo. I want very badly to love this album, but I just can't. The main reason is because I can't hear or understand hardly any of the lyrics. They all sound muffled and garbled. For a person like me who places high importance on lyrics, it's extremely frustrating to listen to. I've tried several times, but I just can't take it. The music sounds interesting and different, but all the great songwriting I keep reading about in all the reviews escapes me because I can't hear it.

    1. @Wendell Ottley: I’m happy my top 100 was useful to you! Especially the Kate Tempest album :)
      Hip hop, for me it depends, if the language is very potty-mouthed, or the artist is arrogantly saying he’s the king (like J Cole does on his popular 2014 Forest Hills Drive album), then that can turn me off.
      My favorite hip hop albums of 2014 are: Kate Tempest, Dead by Young Fathers, and Hallways by Homeboy Sandman. I’ll be sharing a few samples from them in an overlooked music of 2014 post.
      A bunch of your selections I haven't listened to, glad we agree on Lana Del Rey’s album. Run the Jewels and FKA Twigs have gotten a lot of hype, I just couldn’t get into those albums unfortunately. Oh well.
      The only thing I know about Common is he collaborated on Glory song for Selma.
      I’m new to D'Angelo, so I can’t comment on his previous output. I dug his new album for the melodies and atmosphere. Maybe if I did read his words I wouldn't like the album anymore haha. If audible lyrics are important to you, I could see why the music is frustrating.

    2. I failed to mention another source of frustration and the reason I want to love Black Messiah. I'm a fan of D'Angelo. The J. Cole album is not bad, but not anywhere near as good as Born Sinner. I'm a hip hop lifer so I'll always gravitate in that direction, but I'm certainly open to other stuff.

    3. @Wendell Ottley: I ought to give J Cole's and D'Angelo's previous albums a try in future

  2. I posted a comment before but I don't know if you got it so I'll write another one just in case. In case you did get that comment you can delete this one.

    I like your picks of the Future Islands, Beck, Mac Demarco, Sun Kil Moon and of course the number one which is mine as well.

    I thought the St Vincent one was too experimental for my taste but I liked some of the songs. Just that I enjoyed the previous record more. I like that she is evolving.

    I didn't respond to the Love Letters album. but I did listen to it only once.
    Haven't checked out Black Messiah. But everyone loves it so it must be something special.

    Ultraviolence disappointed me. Hated the lyrics and the helpless woman image they project. It's one of the albums I hated last year. The others are the ones from Calvin Harris, Kylie Minogue, Maroon 5, Foxes and Sophie Ellis Bextor. Are there any albums from 2014 you disliked?

    And also are there any albums from this year that you are looking forward to? I for one can't wait for new material from Erykah Badu. Frank Ocean, Radiohead and the newly announced Bjork album to name a few.

    1. @Cristi B: Good thing you sent comment again, I didn’t get the first!
      Thanks, glad you agree on those albums are good. St. Vincent dropped down my list a bit during the year, still I think her record with so many solid tracks is a highlight of 2014.
      I agree Lana Del Rey’s lyrics are not the best, even so, I find her music haunting and it works for me. Unfair to name hated albums, because sometimes beloved music simply is not my taste. If it’s not for me then I won’t bother finishing but I respect if others can appreciate it. New Kylie Minogue was a big disappointment for sure. I disliked Booty song by Jennifer Lopez, got 98 million hits just because of the “sexy” video /: I liked Lopez’s music between 1999-2001, sadly in recent years it’s taken a turn for the worse. New Madonna songs that appeared om Spotify in late Dec were very disappointing (the single Living For Love is the only track I could tolerate)

      Upcoming releases, the first few months of 2015 look pretty weak for new music(Metacritic's Upcoming Album Release list). I’ve decided to focus less on new music this year. Thanks for the info, will add Radiohead and Björk:

    2. I guess maybe to call them hated albums is a bit harsh.
      I did like Jennifer Lopez's music from that time too. It's a small part of my childhood. Haven't heard that Booty song because I knew I'd regret listening to it. Actually I avoided her new release altogether because I knew it would be bad. And I'm a completist so that's new for me.

      Oh, yeah. I've listened to two of the Madonna songs. Didn't like them. Looks like she doesn't want to drop the sexy lady act. But I will listen to that album, for sure. And will most likely dislike it.

      I too intend to not listen to everything this year. Wasted so much time on new albums that turned out to not connect with me at all. Although there are some acts to look forward to, as always.But I am behind on some artists and bands' material. But I am so curious about the new stuff...
      Hopefully I'll fix that.

      I've seen your list on Amazon. Definitely looking to that Chromatics album if it really comes out this year.

    3. @Cristi B: When I hear those 6 new Madonna songs I just want to go back and listen to her best stuff instead. Same opinion about J Lopez. They are embarrassing themselves and tarnishing their reputation.

      On Chromatics wikipedia it says:
      In December 2014, the band announced that a new, 17-track-album entitled Dear Tommy will be available via Italians Do It Better "in time for Valentine's Day."

    4. Yes, how the mighty have fallen.

      I hope they keep their promise. Artists from this label are known for taking their time.

      Nice talking to you.

  3. I just heard the new D'Angelo. Man, it's fucking good. I'm glad he's back.

    1. @thevoid99: Yep, D’Angelo’s new album really impressed me too!

  4. Not too fond of Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence, but it seems it impressed you more. Didn't know Electric Youth has a new album.

    I don't know if I have a full album that I love last year. I was more focused on tracks. I listened to the full album of She & Him's new album which was pleasant, but not mind blowing.

    1. @Andina: Yep, Ultraviolence had a few iffy tracks, still I played the album quite a lot in 2014.
      I agree with your verdict on She & Him album.

  5. Hey Chris! I think my fave albums consist of mostly soundtracks, ahah. I agree Lana's voice is heavenly! LOVE her 'Once Upon A Dream' rendition for Maleficent, so deliciously dark and moody!

    1. @Ruth: Maleficent song by Lana Del Rey wasn’t among my best loved of the year, but I agree her vocal is amazing.
      2014 was indeed a great year for soundtracks, which is why I did a separate top 10 soundtracks year-end list:

  6. Woohoo, Future Islands and St. Vincent made your list! I need to listen to that Sun Kil Moon album. I had a similar reaction to yours the first time I heard Elliott Smith's Either/Or. It's absolutely fantastic but I just can't bring myself to listen to it often. Too damn depressing.

    1. Eric @The Warning Sign: Remember you are a fan of St. Vincent and Future Islands as well! I couldn't leave those albums off.
      Elliott Smith is definitely a melancholy singer, with a great talent. For maximum effect, Benji by Sun Kil Moon is best listened to in its entirety, with the lyric sheet close at hand.

  7. Hi, Chris! Sorry, I didn't realize I hadn't been by here in so long. I'm going to try to start reading blogs more regularly. :)

    Nice list. Love that we both have St. Vincent, Lazaretto, Morning Phase, and Lost in the Dream in our top 10. I still need to check out Black Messiah. Great to see Tough Love, Innerworld, Blank Project, Turn Blue, and Luminous on your honorable mentions as well.

    1. @Josh: You’re making it a habit of mass-commenting :) I counted 11 comments or something. It’s all good though, if that’s what you prefer.

      Great we have a few albums in common for 2014! I hope you enjoy Black Messiah, a great album that many year-end lists missed because of the mid Dec release date.

    2. Yeah, I got out of the habit of reading blogs regularly when I was posting the CinSpecs every week. I'm all caught up, though, and I should be by more regularly now. :)

    3. @Josh: I know what you mean, blog reading and commenting is time comsuming. I can hardly keep up anymore. Good to know you will still be active :)


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